The cost of Christmas can add up quickly what with food, presents, Christmas decorations and trips to Santa being holiday essentials.
It’s easy to get carried away with your shopping, especially when you’re excited to see the look on your children’s faces come Christmas day.
“Lots of families can really feel the financial pinch at this time of year,” Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives told HuffPost UK Parents.
“Parents should avoid Christmas becoming a contest to see who can buy the most expensive presents. Remember what it’s actually about.”
Steve Nowottny from MoneySavingExpert agreed, adding: “The most important point is to spend what you can afford, not buy what you desire. Christmas is one day – don’t ruin the whole of next year for it.”
With this in mind HuffPost UK Parents chatted to parenting and financial gurus to put together the ultimate budgeting guide for Christmas.
1. Be honest with your children.
When you’re desperate to make Christmas special for your children, it can be easy to get frustrated when their Christmas list seems to add up to hundreds of pounds.
“Having to tell your children that you aren’t giving them the presents they want can be hard, but they will appreciate your honesty and will soon get over it as they process the reasons why,” Todd said.
“Don’t give throw-away responses such as ‘because I said so’, be frank with your children, tell them if you don’t think a gift is suitable or is overpriced.”
2. Calculate an overall budget.
“A typical family spends a whopping £820 on Christmas,” Nowottny told HuffPost UK Parents. “That’s a huge amount from one month’s salary.
“Set a budget that is realistic and actually stick to it.”
Sarah Crown, Mumsnet editor agreed, adding: “Do your sums and work out what you have to spend in advance of the last weeks.
“Decide on price limits, shop around, and don’t be afraid to suggest a Secret Santa to friends and family – they might find it a blessed relief.”
3. Create some extra cash.
“Walk around your home. If there’s anything you haven’t used, from old games to clothes, mobiles and toys, consider flogging it to raise cash for the festive period,” said Nowottny.
“Facebook selling sites in your local area are increasingly popular and eBay’s always a good bet.”
4. Stay warm for less.
Crown said layering up with jumpers, socks and thick thermals could save you more than you realise on energy bills.
“Block draughts and wrap tinfoil around cardboard to put behind your radiators, it all makes a difference,” she said.
5. Pick your tree wisely.
It might be tempting to go for the biggest and best tree, but does the size really matter? The best part is putting all the decorations on it together as a family.
“Buy a tree you can use again and again,” suggested Anne-Marie O’Leary, Netmums’ editor in chief.
“Real trees are lovely, but incredibly expensive and a pain to clean up after.”
6. Decorate on a budget.
Head into any Christmas shop and you will see extravagant baubles and Christmas tree decorations that can cost up to £210 each – we kid you not each.
But they don’t have to cost a fortune.
“Homemade snowflakes and paper-chains cost pennies and look lovely,” said Crown.
“They will also keep your children occupied for minutes at a time, and furnish your home with a warm retro glow.
“And if you really can’t face making anything, remember – the pound shop is your friend.”
7. Don’t pay a lot of money unnecessarily.
“Kids aren’t retail snobs,” said Nowottny. “With a bit of thought you can often get presents children will love for under a fiver.
“A perennial favourite is the balloon box. Just get a huge cardboard box, fill it with blown-up balloons, then wrap it.”
Ask yourself whether you are buying for the sake of buying, Todd added.
“If you are buying toys for young children think about where that item will be after Christmas day and whether it will be used or appreciated at such a young age.”
8. Agree a budget with family members.
It’s never a great feeling when you receive a present from someone who has spent a lot more on you than you have on them – agree a budget in advance and don’t be afraid to set it low.
“It’s the thought that counts and it can actually be really fun to see what kinds of gifts people come up with on a budget,” said Todd.
9. Ban unnecessary presents.
“Not for children or grandchildren of course,” explained Nowottny. “But for the ever-widening glut of friends, extended family and colleagues.
“After all, Christmas isn’t a retail festival – and making a No Unnecessary Presents Pact (NUPP) can often be a secret relief for both parties.”
Todd added: “If it is traditional to buy for wider family members, perhaps arrange a secret Santa so that each family member only has to buy one gift.”
10. Make and bake what you can.
Use your skills to come up with some creative and unique Christmas presents – it might take more time, but it’ll cost a lot less.
“As well as being more personal, homemade gifts can save you cash,” Crown said. “And if you’re not craft-y, ‘vouchers’ for babysitting, decorating help or gardening are likely to be a lot more welcome than socks.”
Todd agreed and said making gifts in bulk can sometimes be cheaper – even a framed photo can make a lovely present.
11. Don’t buy everything new.
Depending on the present you’re buying, it can sometimes be just as acceptable to get a ‘nearly new’ version, or scour the charity shops for some amazing stocking fillers.
“Kids toys are rarely beloved forever, so make use of nearly new sites and charity shops where you can usually buy good-as-new toys for a fraction of the price,” said O’Leary.
12. Shop around for cheaper prices.
Looking for presents your children want online is a great way to compare prices from different retailers. Sites like Amazon and eBay are usually a lot cheaper than the high street.
If you’re ordering online, get presents sent to store and collect there to save on postage.
“Also keep your eyes peeled for discounts,” added Crown. “There are hundreds of them around at this time of year, as retailers compete for your custom.
“Voucher codes and flash sale sites can be a lifesaver at Christmas; be sure to check out Mumsnet Discounts regularly for our exclusive partner offers.”
13. Consider alternative brands
“It’s often tempting to splurge at the supermarket at Christmas, yet don’t assume you’ll prefer higher-brand goods,” explained Nowottny.
“When Martin Lewis (founder of MoneySavingExpert) held a blind taste-test Christmas party for nurses at a hospital, they either couldn’t tell the difference or preferred the lower-brand goods 62% of the time.”
14. Share the load.
If it’s your turn to have guests for Christmas lunch it will immediately increase costs for you.
“Ask everyone to bring something,” O’Leary advises. “They could bring wine, mince pies, cake, vegetables. It’s a darn sight cheaper and makes it a lot less hard work.”
15. Ditch the big shop.
Crown said unless you’re in the middle of nowhere, little and often makes more sense and you’re less likely to buy more than you need/can possibly eat.
“Rather than buying a week’s-worth of fruit and veg in the run-up to Christmas and spending the festive season watching them rot, buy only what you need as you need it: less waste, and less cost,” said Crown.
Todd said to think about what will realistically be eaten and what normally gets thrown away.
“Make a plan and stick to it when you’re shopping,” he said.
16. Make food last longer.
It might be a pain, but spend time after Christmas dinner wrapping up leftovers and putting them in the fridge, to be eaten over the next couple of days.
17. Do things differently next year.
One of the best ways to save money during the festive period is to plan in advance, which is a crucial piece of advice for Christmas 2016.
“Buy bargains that fit as presents throughout the year, then store them in a special ‘Christmas cupboard’,” Nowottny said.
“Really dedicated money savers even start their Christmas shopping in January, picking up generic items such as cards, wrapping paper and decorations dirt-cheap in the New Year sales.”
How do you cut the cost of Christmas? Have you managed to survive on a budget? Let us know in the comments below.